Time for the Working Class Heroes

Working Class Hero.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Working Class Hero. Photo by Callen Harty.

About a week ago I heard that Eric Cantor was proposing to eliminate rules about overtime, which would allow corporations to save money by not having to pay hourly workers for extra time worked. The other day I found an article in The Guardian that noted that the ultra-conservative business/legislative partnership organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was pushing state legislation in dozens of states to reduce or eliminate minimum wage laws, even as President Obama is suggesting that the current minimum wage needs to be raised to keep citizens out of poverty.

It is no surprise that those most invested in the plutocracy in which we live are trying to further entrench their power and wealth by taking even more away from those who already have little or nothing. It is no surprise that the corporate media who are now part of that plutocracy are in bed with those trying to suppress the working class and poverty-stricken citizens of this country. When they do report on groups like ALEC or anti-worker legislation it is a glossed over incomplete picture that purports to be a balanced look at both sides of the issue, or they write editorials supporting laws that continue to allow the takeover of our country by a small and wealthy elite. It is no surprise that lawmakers are beholden to corporations and wealthy individuals that pay for their campaigns in a country where corporations are considered people and money is considered speech.

What is surprising is the number of people who vote for candidates who stand for everything that is against their own self-interests. What is surprising is the people affected by such shenanigans who support legislation that undermines their own well-being or that of people they supposedly care about. I was talking with someone yesterday about the push to end minimum wage laws and they didn’t understand the problem with that. I was stunned. Of course, it was a salaried person who likely wouldn’t be hurt–at least not immediately–by such a thing. But I think she didn’t understand that once hourly workers’ wages are reduced those at the top of the ladder will also understand that they don’t have to pay salaried employees as much either, because it’s all relative. “There are two sides to every story,” she said, oblivious to the impact that no minimum wage laws would have on a huge number of people in this country and how it would eventually affect us all. She went on to say that businesses could hire people who have been unemployed and provide more jobs. And yes, they could. It felt like her heart really seemed to be in the right place and she was trying to find the good in such a proposal. Someone like her might believe that such a law could allow people like her to help people out, but most of the greedy corporations in this country would use the idea of no minimum wage to pay as little as possible to as many as possible (except, of course, for the CEOs who will continue to get millions of dollars in pay and obscene bonuses to oversee their serfs). Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.

Why people vote against their own well-being and support laws that leave them in a worse place is what confuses me. I understand billionaires trying to protect their fiefdoms, but I don’t understand labor asking for additional chains. I don’t understand people not processing what it is they are hearing so that they understand how laws will affect them and those around them. They buy into propaganda campaigns that tell them things like public employee unions are sucking money from them, without understanding that without unions their own wages would be lower. As ALEC and others are working to dismantle unions they also have long-range plans to pretty much destroy the economy we once had and turn us into a third world country where we will fight over low-paying jobs with horrible conditions because it’s all we can get.

The idea that we are even talking about reducing or eliminating minimum wage laws would have been unimaginable even ten or twenty years ago. We have been through a depression in the last decade with unemployment just now coming down and it has left those in the working class hungry to accept anything. When you have been unemployed and with no income for two years a job at the current minimum wage sounds great, even if you were making $20 an hour before losing your job. If “financial experts” are saying that eliminating the minimum wage will create more jobs and you haven’t had a job for three years that might sound like a good thing, even though it is not. When you have not eaten anything for two days scraps from the table of a feast becomes a welcome meal. The problem is those at the top keep giving us less scraps from their table so that we are thankful for whatever little bits are left.

These attempts to gut unions, reduce wages, and in other ways create a permanent workforce happy with scraps has to stop now before it is too late. If the poor and working class among us do not stand up now and say no to the further deterioration of our place in society we will soon have no place left in society. It is time for all the working class heroes struggling to survive now to stand up and speak out before we are no longer allowed to stand up and speak out. Otherwise, we will become denizens of a Dickensian world that we thought had ended more than a century ago and our bodies and souls will be trapped in poorhouses that we may never escape.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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